In some cultures, greetings have lost a bit of their “punch”. When I’m walking down the hallway at work, if someone makes eye contact as they pass me (going the other way), there’s a social obligation for me to say “hi” (or some other neutral greeting). If the co-worker is someone that I know, I’m happy to share a more personalized greeting, but it’s usually not much more than we can fit into a few seconds as we walk past each other. On the other hand, if it is my wife approaching me in the hallway, I am probably in trouble or forgot something at home, since she doesn’t work there! (Or, maybe she is joining me for lunch, which is nice when the timing works out for the two of us.)
In many environments, we aren’t always obliged to greet others with a handshake, a hug, or a holy kiss (see 2 Corinthians 13:12). And, when responsibilities prevent us from pausing and having a meaningful conversation with others, a simple greeting still shows respect and friendliness. That’s not inherently bad, but it seems that in societies where the pace of life is perhaps a little slower, and the relationships a little more carefully cultivated, I suspect that conversations start with exchanges that are more meaningful and heartfelt than a simple “How you doin’?” or ” ‘Sup?”.
Have a look at this verse from the book of Ruth:
Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem and said to the reapers, “May the Lord be with you.” And they said to him, “May the Lord bless you.”
Ruth 2:4 NASB
Unlike Boaz, I’m pretty sure that my managers have never greeted me in this particular manner. However, in an environment where both supervisor and employee are believers, and they have the opportunity to speak freely about that, what better blessings could we offer? Wouldn’t we want God to be with those we care about, and that they would be blessed by God?
Part of the challenge here is that not everyone regularly agrees about (or even knows) what it means to “bless” someone else. We might say “Bless You!” when someone sneezes (which has its own etymology), but what does it really mean when we tell someone, “May the Lord bless you”? This word can be used in a lot of secular and religious ways, but I liked the definitions below as a good example:
“to say that you hope good things will happen to them”
“the invoking of God’s favor upon a person”
“to confer prosperity or happiness upon”
So, when we bless someone, we are hoping that positive things will happen in their lives. A “wish” is one thing, but to the one who believes in God, this becomes more powerful than just an empty desire. Since God is attentive to our requests, even as he listens to and acts upon them (according to His will), a blessing that calls upon the Lord becomes a prayer for God’s provision and grace (both gifts that we don’t deserve) to be provided for the person to whom it is spoken.
Because of the diversity of relationships, communication styles, and social norms, I am not suggesting that we should simply copy Boaz’s greetings verbatim. I don’t think that it is a command of Jesus to quote this greeting. However, we can still learn from his example, here.
For one thing, we should bless others. Jesus did teach us about this. His command below suggests to me that blessing one’s friends was already expected, and that Jesus’ new instructions were just extending this to enemies (see also Romans 12:14):
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
Luke 6:27-28 NIV
As we learn more about pronouncing blessings on others, I think that they are something that we should not take lightly. When we greet someone, and ask for God’s blessing upon them, let us actually think about that, and make it a prayer for the other person’s well-being. This gives us the opportunity not only to talk with God, but also to make our prayers more specific to the needs of those around us. Rather than just telling someone, “May the Lord bless you”, perhaps we can ask God to help them with a particular physical ailment, or a specific problem in their day.
Secondly, when we do want to ask for God’s blessing on someone else (whether a friend, family member, loved one, or an enemy), let us tell them. Like Boaz, I think that we need to be bold enough to pronounce blessings for others out loud. Not only will this tell the recipients that we are praying for them, but it will be a testimony to others. And, when God does answer our prayers with blessings, even more people can give Him the glory for doing so.
Similarly, when we bless an enemy out loud (with sincerity – not sarcastically or mockingly), we give them a chance to see a glimpse of the love that Jesus gave to us, when He offered us the blessing of eternal life, even when we had rebelled against Him.
God’s riches exceed anything that we could even think about asking for, and they are tempered by His wisdom. As a result, may we ask for His blessings to be generously given to others, with the confidence that God can truly bless them.
May the Lord bless you, today!